In the wake of yet another report of insurance hikes set for 2017, more and more people will find themselves asking one question: Why are health care costs SO HIGH? Now I know “tis the season” to start getting all political. I know everyone wants to begin blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) or the top 1% for all of our problems right now, but let’s take a step back. If you really want to buy into either of these motives that is fine. There are always external factors at hand affecting our environment, but before you start to blame someone else about YOUR health care, just remember that this is YOUR health we are talking about.
Again, without getting into the politics of everything, we as a nation have now become a place where we expect someone else to be responsible both financially and therapeutically for OUR OWN health. Out of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, 5 of them are widely preventable (and arguably a few others). This means that some of the most costly diseases to our health care system are diseases that we could help avoid. I do understand that this is America. We are free to do what we want, and that is great. But when it comes to our health, we need to accept more responsibility for the way we treat our bodies instead of crying poor me when it goes downhill in cases where we could have prevented it. So for those looking to take a little more responsibility and actually do something about the mess that is our health care system, here are 5 things that will save you (and the nation) money on (your) health care.
1) Eat Better
Investing time in well balanced, home cooked meals will have a positive impact on your health and your wallet. Even a bottom of the line restaurant meal will cost you at around $15 per meal including the tip. Going somewhere more upscale? Your meal could cost you an upwards of $35. Want a few drinks with that? Bump it to $50. For that price you could buy almost week’s worth of groceries. Even a professional bodybuilder can eat for $50 a week. Maybe you spend a bit more if you need to season your food a little or add a few fruits to the mix, but the point is that you are getting much better food for much cheaper.
So why not just use processed foods? They are cheap right? Well not so fast. The point is to make an impact on your health too. Processed food, junk food, and sugary foods may be findable at a comparable price, but their impact on your health will eventually catch up to you. Heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer are all preventable through a good diet. And regardless of how good your insurance may be, the less we as a community go to the doctor for systemic, preventable diseases such as those, the less burden there will be on the health care system. Remember, even if you aren’t directly paying for the entire bill on a given visit, someone is. Insurance companies aren’t in this business for charity. When we put smaller burden on them as payers, the result is more affordable plan options. By investing in your long term health by making proper dietary choices, you are not only saving in the short term on your groceries, but in the long term.
2. Exercise More/Be More Active
You should know this already. No, I KNOW you already know this. Exercise, aside from a proper diet, is the most important and effective way to positively influence your health and even your health care costs. It is also the other piece of the puzzle to solve our nation’s biggest health concerns. Ever actually looked at a person’s family when they have a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease? Do you typically see a group of people who eat well, exercise routinely, and are active instead of sitting around all the time? You know, the ones that do all they can but just can’t get over those bad family genetics? No. You typically see people who make horrible lifestyle choices. Do you REALLY think 1/3 of the U.S. population is obese, because our genetics over the last few generations have evolved us to that point? Of course, that’s textbook survival of the fittest… Thanks, Darwin.
My point is, that the real problem is you and your influences in society. We have become extremely lazy and excuse oriented in our society, and nothing is ever our fault. I know you know that exercising is important. Good job, here’s your gold star, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you actually exercise. Need more of an incentive? Lets look at just one condition in which exercising helps reduce or prevent, high blood pressure.
The average cost of having high blood pressure per year is anywhere between $750-$1200 per year. That is simply just your doctors visits and medication. Because it is a chronic disease and the only real treatment you get through mainstream medical is to just give medication for the rest of your life, you could be spending $30,000+ over a lifetime of having this condition. That doesn’t even account for the fact that high blood pressure is often accompanied by heart disease, high cholesterol, and many other conditions that require medication. On top of that, these medications are well known to ruin your kidneys, so after 20 or 3o years of medications, get ready for dialysis and kidney failure costs as well. All because you can’t face the music, get a $45 dollar a month gym membership and then ACTUALLY go and ACTUALLY work out 4 or 5 times in a week.
Let’s take the exercise argument even further. With all the mental health problems we are having in our nation, did you know that exercise has been proven to be more effective at affecting a positive mood and releasing endorphins than SSRI inhibitors? We could go on and on about the cost saving effects of something as simple as exercise, but the real horse to beat is the one you’re sitting on. Exercise. Do it.
3. Stop going to the doctor/ER for EVERYTHING
The emergency room is not your personal 24/7 doctors office. Yet it is an extremely abused outlet to health care. So in case there is some confusing, here’s a few reasons why you should admit yourself into the ER:
- You’ve been physically dismembered
- You were in a severe accident
- You’ve been shot (should have shot back, John Wayne)
- You have a severe infection
- You cannot move you limbs
Here’s a list of things you shouldn’t admit yourself into the ER for:
- You don’t feel good and think you may have ebola, the zika virus, the flu, etc.
- Your child is crying and you think something is wrong
- Your back/knee/shoulder hurts
- You have a headache
- Non-complicated musculoskeletal injuries: (Most) broken bones, ligament tears, sprains and strains
Those aren’t even ridiculous compared to some of the stupid excuses I’ve heard from those I know in that division of health care. The ER is the MOST expensive doctors visit you could possibly choose. I don’t care if receive medicare/medicaid and think its a free visit or if you are insured and you see $25 written next to the ER visits on your insurance card, it is. The bill at some point must be paid, and just because you may not pay all of it does not mean that you’re not paying for this service at some level. Inappropriate usage of the ER is one of the main drivers of increased health care costs and why your deductible and premiums have soared. On top of that, because the job of an ER is to rule out that you may die in the next hour, if the condition is not serious, you will end up getting an uncharged prescription or being advised to see your primary physician. So not only will you be in the emergency room for a while, but if your problem is not at a certain level of severity, you will not even get it fixed. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and go to a local urgent care center. OR… and this may be a stretch to ask for, honestly ask yourself: “Is this REALLY an emergency?”
4. Stop Using Pain Medications to Mask the Problem
Before we begin, I think it’s important to illustrate that I am not 100% against drugs and medications. I recognize that they are a very important part of our health care system and have a purpose. What I am against is abuse of drugs and medication in a chronic setting without acknowledging or addressing the actual cause. Not only does this lead to higher health care costs, it also causes drug addiction and mental health issues. Lately, there has been a movement towards actually recognizing that there’s a problem with pain medication abuse, but you can google that topic on your own. I simply want to stick with why there are better solutions and why you will save money by not accepting the easy route of pain medication.
In its essence, pain medication and anti-inflammatories were developed for one reason: to block the inflammatory phase of healing, and to block pain receptors from sensing pain. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at WHY we actually feel pain or develop inflammation. In most cases of musculoskeletal injury (the main reasons for prescribed anti-inflammatories and opioids), the cause is chronic wear and tear. At the physiological level, unless there is a development of an actual disease, the body undergoes a certain level of breakdown and repair. A “breakdown” in tissue is essentially micro trauma and tears. They occur all day everyday, but as long as there is equilibrium with the rate of repair, these micro tears will not lead to injury, spasm, or macro tears.
When we begin to overwork our body, there is a shift in this process in which breakdown exceeds repair. This can be through bad habits in posture, not exercising enough (or too much, without enough rest), compensations in movement, or repetitive stress from work or other daily activities, etc. The breakdown of tissue causes an inflammatory environment and must be removed and repaired, so if we begin to exceed the body’s capacity to repair, inflammation will increase. Eventually the body becomes so overstressed and inflamed that it will cause injury, spasm, strains, etc. When this happens, our body begins to perceive pain and we start to hurt. This is why often times people can’t figure out what it is that they did to hurt themselves, because it is a build up in trauma and not a one time injury.
In order to treat this, there needs to be a focus on the actual WHY, and this is where only taking pain medications is the wrong approach. Yes you hurt. Yes inflammation causes pain, but the problem is not a dysfunction in your pain receptors or in your inflammatory process of healing. If that was the actual problem, then the correct and only treatment needed would be medication to fix that dysfunction. Since the problem is you are beating your body down and aren’t healing fast enough, taking these medications alone will only alter the perception that there is a problem, not actually address it. This would be the equivalent to having your check engine light go off while you’re driving down the road. Maybe you ignore it for a while and then finally get annoyed or inconvenienced enough by it to take it in to the shop to get looked at. You come into the shop you may say “hey my check engine light is on, can you look and find out what the problem is.” If you want an easy and quick way out, the mechanic can just shut off the sensors for you car, and you can go on your way with no more light. This works well until all of a sudden you find yourself stranded on the side of the road with a completely broken car. What may have been a small, fixable defect, alignment, or tune up that set off the light to begin with turned into a debilitating problem that stranded you on the side of the road. And as we all know, getting a new seal or alignment is much cheaper than buying a new tire after a blowout or replacing and entire cooling system. Therefore, when you feel pain and reach for the pain medication bottle without trying to find out why it is you hurt, all you are doing is ignoring a small issue and allowing it to fester into a big one.
5. Be Proactive, Not Reactive
One of the biggest problems that we have in our health care system is sitting around waiting for our health to diminish before we actually start to care about it. In a cost stand point, this is the simple case of being short-term minded vs long-term minded. For example, in my practice, I will basically see two types of patients: Those who are motivated by their health, and those who are motivated by their pain.
Those who are motivated by their health understand that regular maintenance care keeps them from having severe flare ups while also preventing early degeneration and performance loss. This may mean that they see me once a month to “get their engine checked” or “change their oil,”
Then there are those who are motivated by pain. These are the people who you don’t see for months on end until suddenly they are in a world of hurt and can barely move. Because this type of person typically doesn’t take care of themselves outside of the office either, it means that when they finally do come back, they have dug themselves quite a hole. It takes me longer to restore the progress from earlier on these patients because they waited too long. The body does not just fall apart in one day. The interesting thing is if you break down the amount of visits spent in my office between this group and the group motivated by health, they come out to be about the same number. Those who come regularly to maintain their health are much less likely to beat themselves up to the point where they are in my office for 8 or 10 visits like those motivated by pain. And when you are only coming once or twice a month, those same 8 visits last you a long time.
For more information on how you can improve your health, questions, or to make an appointment with Dr. Detweiler, call 901-573-2526 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.